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Douglas County implements emergency mask mandate, effective Friday; 727 new COVID cases reported since Monday

Article updated at 1:55, 2:14 and 4:41 p.m. Wednesday:

Douglas County officials have implemented an emergency mask mandate to curb the spread of COVID-19 as case numbers have reached record highs in the past week.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health on Wednesday reported 727 new cases since Monday, with an average of 96.5 new cases reported per day over the last 14 days. There were 1,944 active cases in the county, according to the update.

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Dr. Thomas Marcellino, the Douglas County health officer, and Douglas County Commission Chair Shannon Portillo announced the order Wednesday, to go into effect Friday, Jan. 7. It will require all people ages 2 and up to wear masks inside any public spaces in the county.

“The ongoing impact of the delta variant along with the arrival of both the highly contagious omicron variant as well as the influenza season is creating challenges for the community and healthcare providers throughout Douglas County,” according to a county news release Wednesday afternoon.

The county’s rolling 14-day average number of new cases per day hit a new high of around 89 within the past week. The previous high was about 82 new cases per day back in November 2020. Wednesday’s update again broke pandemic records.

Click here to see the latest COVID-19 stats for Lawrence, the Lawrence school district, and Douglas County on the Times’ dashboard.

The emergency health order includes an individual mask order as well as a business mask order. In addition to indoor public spaces and public transportation, the order requires people to wear masks anywhere outdoors where they are unable to maintain 6 feet of distance between people who do not reside together.

Exemptions to the order include people who have medical conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings; people who are deaf or hard of hearing; people engaged in religious activities; people who are seated and actively eating and drinking in restaurants; and people who are engaged in court-related proceedings, according to the county’s news release.

Rebecca Smith, spokesperson for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said in a community update Wednesday that LMH is “working hard to ensure that we can be here when you need us.” But as cases soar, a significant number of team members are unable to work because of COVID-19.

The hospital is preparing to adopt new CDC and Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidance that allows asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic employees to return to work after five days during a staffing crisis, Smith wrote.

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“We are doing all we can, but we can’t do it alone,” she wrote. “Show your support for our healthcare workers by wearing your mask, staying at home, getting your vaccine if you have not already and getting your booster. Doing so protects both our community and our community hospital.”

The health order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the county commission will discuss extending it for 30 days during its regular meeting next week. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12 at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. It will also be available by Zoom.

Asked about the timing of the order and why the wait until Friday, Douglas County spokesperson Karrey Britt said “Since the beginning of the pandemic and local public health orders, businesses, agencies and schools have asked for time to update their policies and implement an order and we’ve given them that time. This health order is no different in allowing them time to make adjustments.”

Here’s the full health order:

20220105-Health-order-2

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See the latest COVID-19 stats for Lawrence and Douglas County on The Lawrence Times’ stat dashboard at this link.

Find out where you can get the free COVID-19 vaccine at this link.

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